Jesus wasn’t always in the flesh.
John 1:14 reminds us that “the Word became flesh.” Becoming flesh means Jesus existed before His incarnation. In our quest to prove the veracity of God becoming man so that as a man, he could do what only God could do, we sometimes caper right past the beauty and mystery of one aspect of the incarnation’s import. Before it, Jesus didn’t have skin.
When John claims that “in the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word was God,” he is implying that Jesus had been around long before his earthly arrival. Before the God-man was a God-baby, he existed eternally in perfect community with the triune God outside of time and space.
In the incarnation, Jesus resolved to lay aside the majesty of his deity to take upon himself man’s likeness and a servant’s form. Before that moment, Jesus had only existed in his preincarnate glory. He was in the form of God, according to the apostle Paul. The early church father John Chrysostom affirms, “The form of God is truly God and nothing less. Paul did not write that he was in process of coming to be in the form of God; rather ‘being in the form of God,’ hence truly divine.” Jesus has always been truly divine but his divinity hasn’t always donned flesh.
So from the vantage point of finite beings and though Jesus has no beginning, we see that the God-man’s timeline “began” before his advent in an earthly manger. And as we deal in beginnings and endings to make sense of the sacred, we can’t lose that the preincarnate Christ’s pre-skin context was the harmonious community of the Godhead in heaven. His ex nihilo eternality is necessarily an essential in understanding the gospel’s content. You have to have a Jesus who was in the form of God eternally before he was in the form of man to do what only the God-man himself could have done—make a way for the soul to be rid of it’s one dark blot.
We love to sing in our church community.
We heartily belt it out in our retrofitted fellowship hall Sunday after Sunday. One of the songs we routinely revisit says, “When Satan tempts me to despair/And tells me of the guilt within/Upward I look, and see Him there/Who made an end to all my sin.” I recall when I first sang these lines, I thought I was singing about the cross. It was my gazing upon the cross that could recalibrate my vacillating spiritual discouragement. While that can be true factually, those lines aren’t about peering at the crucified Jesus on a cross. There about something entirely different. They are about looking at my resurrected and ascended Jesus in heaven.
Now, I can’t literally look up and see Jesus in heaven. It exists in an unseen dimension at the moment. But what these lines point to is the reality that Jesus currently resides in the eternal home from whence he came. He has returned to his divine community—but not in his preincarnate form. No, he has returned as one who possesses a resurrected body that “made an end to all my sin” and is now exalted to the place of highest honor—God’s right hand. That is the God I am to “see” when I sing those lines. But without the ascension, I can’t look to Jesus in that way. Without it, we omit another crucial aspect of comprehending the thrust of the gospel message. Jesus is back in heaven. And that means something.
There are three primary passages which give us the historical record of the ascension of Jesus: Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, and Acts 1:9. And while there are many themes we could extract from these texts, in my opinion, one stands out above the rest. John Calvin put it best when he said, “For as soon as God’s dread majesty comes to mind, we cannot but tremble and be driven far away by the recognition of our own unworthiness until Christ comes forward as intermediary, to change the throne of dreadful glory into the throne of grace.” Christ as intermediary. Christ as advocate. Christ as intercessor. No ascension—no throne of grace. Only a throne of dreadful glory that we can’t approach boldly. But Jesus.
Head over to Grace For Sinners to read the third act and why the ascension matters to the fullness of the gospel’s timeline.